(The Center Square) – For the first time in decades, there’s a new speaker of the Illinois House and he’s making history.
But he also comes in under a cloud of recently revealed allegations of abusive behavior from years ago, and a close connection to the former controversial House Speaker.
On the eve of Chris Welch’s election to Illinois House speaker, replacing longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, media reports highlighted allegations against Welch made by women.
After conducting his first session Wednesday as the new speaker, Welch told the media that reports of abusive behavior against women are behind him.
“People mature, they look back and would do things differently and I think my life’s work here in the legislature shows my respect for women,” Welch said.
In recent years as speaker, Madigan had his office rocked with allegations of mistreatment of women both at the statehouse and within his political operations during the peak of the #MeToo movement.
Madigan, D-Chicago, had maintained despite the repeated reports of improper behavior in his office, he never fostered a culture of harassment.
There was also last year’s revelations of the ComEd bribery scheme where Madigan associates allegedly received bribes in the form of contracts and do-nothing jobs with utility ComEd.
ComEd admitted to the bribes, saying the utility was trying to influence Madigan. Madigan has not been charged and maintains he never knew of any attempt to influence his office.
Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said one way for Welch to distinguish himself from the culture of Madigan, who is now just a state Representative from Chicago, is to bring fairness to the House Rules, which Madigan has controlled for decades.
“We want to make sure that when [Republicans] have bills that they will a fighting chance for at least a hearing and for an up or down vote,” Durkin said. “That’s all I ask for.”
Welch said House rules will be among the first things he’s open to addressing.
“Possibly make changes, possibly make a lot of changes,” Welch said. “I don’t know what those changes are until I have these conversations that’s going to take place pretty quickly.”
Leading up to Welch’s election to Speaker, Durkin had said Welch will be an extension of Madigan. Thursday, Durkin said he hopes to work with Welch to leave the past behind them.
Durkin also said he doesn’t anticipate filing another petition to have the House investigate Madigan’s involvement in the ComEd bribery scheme.
Welch chaired the House Special Investigating Committee last year where he and other Democrats blocked Republican motions to subpoena Madigan and others to testify about the scandal. Welch said they didn’t want to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation.